Friday, September 25, 2009

Tweeting is silly!

My Editor at The Pioneer, Chandan Mitra, disagrees with me on Twitter as the new platform for instant communications which could emerge as the medium of the future. I am grateful to Mr Mitra for sharing his views with the readers of 'Agent Provocateur'. I hope it will initiate a debate on tweeting, its significance and future.-- Kanchan Gupta.

By Chandan Mitra

I am rather amused by the huge controversy in India over twittering. India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, my good friend Shashi Tharoor, got into quite some hot water over an allegedly insensitive remark, for using the common term ‘cattle class’ to refer to economy travellers on aircraft. The Minister is entitled to his opinion but the question is whether people in high office should expose themselves to the risk of being quoted, sometimes out of context, causing acute discomfort to the Establishment. As of now, media reports suggest he is continuing to twitter although the postings have suddenly turned innocuous and thereby lost the fun element.

At the risk of being labelled grossly old-fashioned, I haven’t for the life of me understood why thousands should be interested in the daily itineraries of other people, which often contain utterly banal information such as “Had two eggs for breakfast today. Must keep watch on cholesterol level” or “Just had a cup of life-saving Starbucks coffee. Now to find a place to smoke”. These examples are second-hand because I am still not on Twitter despite considerable pressure from colleagues and my sons. I have only recently climbed onto the Facebook bandwagon. But it is obvious that a lot of people enjoy reading these inane posts. Social networking has acquired obsessive dimensions, often crossing boundaries of acceptable social behaviour. It has also begun to replace physical meetings and even verbal communication.

Arguably, sms and email has made life a lot easier and allowed people to maximise communication. A fair amount of official work gets done through text messages; saves time, cuts out on long phone calls and superficial exchange of pleasantries. The importance of emails in contemporary life is too big to merit reiteration. But I wonder what precise void social networking fills. Is it a fall-out of the immense loneliness of urban life particularly for young people? Is it because some people want to reassure themselves that there are friends ready to share joys and sorrows that maybe even their boy/girl friends don’t have time for? Or maybe it has opened an avenue to express thoughts and emotions to an entire community of known and unknown people and thus feel self-satisfied?

Whatever it may be, there is no doubt that social networking is here to stay. It has resulted in unanticipated changes in our way of thought and expression. Once we lamented the age of sound-byte journalism on TV, which forces people to say in 10 seconds what they would normally take three minutes. Twitter compels the user not to exceed 140 characters – a limit within which no meaningful idea can possibly be expressed. I have no issue with the proliferation of such forums, except that I fear they are increasingly acting as enemies of serious thought, adding to the insulation of the self from the real world and paradoxically intensifying the alienation of humans from humans.

[The impact of Kanchan Gupta's "cattle class" tweet exchange with Shashi Tharoor has been phenomenal. Check it out here.]


Anonymous said...

Your tweets are juicier than your blogs ;)

ranbijay singh said...

who thot email wud one day become offclmode of communication. Also no1 expected ppl to blog n reads oders blog. but they r realty of modern life. so will b d tweet way of communication

Anurag Kumar Lucknow said...

chandan Sir, has his point but obviously neither you nor I are "had two eggs for breakfast" type!

Anurag Kumar Lucknow said...

which only means that like an AK-47 there are lots of uses twitter can be put to in different hands!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Mitra is right that it is silly to know if someone had 2 cups or 4 cups of coffee. But Mr. Mitra is wrong when he says this future medium is a threat to serious debate. In fact this medium augments serious debate from multiple quarters instead of the chosen few with access to TV studios and newsspapers columns.

Mr. Mitra forgets the impacts blog had in helping the BJP despite the mainstream media in the last 6 years

Offstumped on office profit issue

Offstumped on Pratibha Patil issue

Offstumped during Gujarat elections

Offstumped of course on 26/11

That was just offstumped, when you conside the impact of other blogs its a substantial voice taking on the monopoly of the pro Congress pro Left media.

So Mr. Mitra should seriously consider creatively partnering with the new age media to make Pioneer more impactful from a Center Right standpoint.

Jaideep said...

Chandan is only partly right. While tweets about what soup one is having today or what time someone woke up may be silly one cant blame the medium for that. As for serious debate I agree twitter doesnt allow ellaboration of ideas but what it allows as offstumped has mentioned is participation from multiple quarters. While twitter cant be used as a sole means of communicating ideas/views then Chandan's view is right it surely complements other existing mediums. SMS facility hasnt made phone calls redundant and a phone call cant replace a personal visit. each has its place

Amrit said...

Dear Mr. Chandan Mitra.

I had replied in the Tweet but Mr. Kanchan Gupta asked me to post my response here so that you can read it.

Before using Twitter even I felt in the same manner. I thought what a silly way of wasting time. But once you start using it, you begin to feel it's power. Agreed, there are many who simply post their daily inanities -- don't follow them. But there are many who post lots of information that is highly useful. You must have read about an American boy who was arrested in Egypt. He just tweeted "arrested" from his phone and the entire world knew about his arrest and the Egyptian government had to release him fast.

Every medium has different types of users. There are good, reputed newspapers, and there are trashy tabloids. There are revolutionary magazines, and there are also porn magazines. You can watch movies from Gandhi to Deep Throat.

Twitter empowers the common man/woman who before had no access to the so-called high-profiled journalists, celebrities and politicians. Now everybody can interact with everybody, in fact this is just a beginning. It's specially a good tool in the hands of those who can garner thousands of followers very fast; take for instance Shashi Tharoor, and even Gul Panag. Whenever they want to, they can reach out to hundreds of thousands of followers in a few seconds.

I'd suggest you open an account and start following people who you know don't post much about their breakfasts and potty habits, for instance Mr. Kanchan Gupta. Don't use the web interface — it's confusing as well as boring. Use a desktop application like TweetDeck or Twhirl and you'll notice how easy it is to use it.

Whenever you write something, post the link on Twitter and you'll be amazed by the response and feedback you get.

Kishlaya said...

i cant understand why BJP guys are so averse to new technologies, i and likewise numerous friends of mine follow you regularly in discussions on CNN-IBN,NDTV etc. because its your intellectual capacity and trust element we have faith in and hence we do the above mentioned.

if BJP guys continue to have this outdated attitude towards new tech it will be pretty hard to vow new young voters like me, this is the time when new tech however good/bad must be accepted to an extent and must be used to forge and proliferate the common thinking, means - BJP.

I had high expectations from you as you represented new young face of party and if party and its people continue to have it like this it will be a harm to your image and a huge loss for party.

NR said...

Every medium has its pros and cons. Its for the end user to choose what he wants to avoid and what he wants to imbibe. Print media and 24x& media throw many inanities at us. we choose to avoid them. Its the same case here. He can very well choose to avoid people/tweet which gloat by announcing personal routines.

Regarding the 140 space character, it is very well possible to pack a punch in that. Just like crosswords,sudoku, this too is a challenge, it can help communication skills as well

Chandan for example has his columns appearing only once a week. But there are so many things during the course of a week he may want to convey on a wide range of issues. he can use twitter for such purposes in a short and sweet manner. One can choose to force the issue he wants, esp a media personality like him. there are many times he takes part in a media debates where those anchors never allow one to put forth all the points they want to. He can use this medium to put forth those points.

Just like how blogs gave oneself an alternate medium to put forth their views, twitter to has given such a medium. people like offstumped have shown how to use it effecctively.

I dont think one needs to remind him of the importance of twitter, the us admin felt during iran elections.

there are positive and negative sides to it, and i hope Chandan sees the positive side of it.

Infact I suggest that Pioneer first set up a tweet feed. he doesnt realize how many invisible readers are there for pioneer who solely rely on internet. This will help them.

Anonymous said...

Chandan, after having lost the holycow war to ShahiTharoor seems to be preparing grounds for entering the fray on twitter itself, with a rider of course (...140 characters – a limit within which no meaningful idea can possibly be expressed) in case he ever cuts a sorry figure there!

Looking forward to seeing you there, soon!

Annie Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annie Paul said...

Mr. Mitra is judging Twitter by the most inane use it has been put to rather than the amazing bridges it is capable of constructing between parties/entities who would never otherwise know of each other's existence. Twitter allows new communities to come into being when previously we were restricted to blood links based on family or networks based on geographical proximity.

So what if some tweeters only use it to tell an uncaring world what they had for breakfast? Are you going to dismiss video technology because so many users only employ it to record the banalities of their existence? What about the really crucial communication that video technology has facilitated other than this?

Just as you can't dismiss a book based on what people tell you or by reading the first page Mr. Mitra ought to take the time to use Twitter and learn how it works before dismissing it. Otherwise his criticism remains uninformed criticism and not what one expects from a newsman/editor of his calibre.

Shashi Tharoor's infamous tweet remains a MOO(t) point...

mpanj said...

Mr. Mitra,

I too agree with you on the 'banality' of social media.

However, as popularity and impact of the 'Offstumped' blog has proven - a whole new media landscape awaits us.

You may refuse to participate but your sons (as you point out) are hooked.

If we're to capture the attention of this generation, engagement through new emerging technologies is a prerequisite.

mpanj said...

One other point.

I was sold on Twitter not because of the unintelligent ramblings of the many - but because Twitter can be seen as a 'web-bot'.

Easily the fastest way to get news on a host of issues.

Witness how Offstumped broke news of FM's statement on negotiating with Taliban.

Or how Modi's latest electoral victory flashed across twitter's 'ticker' - even before other news channels started projecting it.

Engage you must Mr. Mitra, or risk being left behind.

Arun said...

Just from the WIKI

Adi Brahmo Samaj
While traveling (1872 – 1873), Swami Dayanand came into close and extended contact with several of the leading Indian intellectuals of the age, including Navin Chandra Roy, Raj Narayan Bose, Debendranath Tagore and Hemendranath Tagore all of whom were actively involved in the Brahmo Samaj. This reform organization, founded in 1828, held many views similar to those of Swami Dayanand in matters both religious (e.g. a belief in monotheism and the eternality of the soul) and social (e.g. the need to abolish the hereditary caste system and uplift the masses through education). Debendranath Tagore had written a book entitled Brahmo Dharma, which serves as a comprehensive manual of religion and ethics to the members of that society, and Swami Dayanand had studied it thoroughly while in Calcutta.
Although Swami Dayanand was persuaded on more than one occasion to join the Brahmo Samaj, there existed several points of contention which the Swami simply could not overlook, the most important being the position of the Vedas. Swami Dayanand held the Vedas to be divine revelation, and refused to accept any suggestions to the contrary. Despite this difference of opinion, however, it seems that the members of the Brahmo Samaj and Swami Dayanand parted on good terms, the former having publicly praised the latter’s visit to Calcutta in several journals and the latter having taken inspiration from the former’s activity in the social sphere.

Chandra said...

Sri Mitra,

Surely not every though needs to be profound. But most profound thoughts are based on simple, and sometimes short, ideas.

Why don't you try for, say, six months - follow the simple thoughts of people who you think are profound and see if it's worth it.

The thing about social network is you too, and all the other profound people, have to contribute your simple thoughts to those who may be following what you have to say.

parthajha said...

Twitter is at the same stage today as TV was about 25 years ago and mobile phones were 10 years ago.

It is wrong to run down Twitter based on FB stereotypes. Underneath the word limit, Twitter has a more substantive tenor. Very soon, it is going to be a combination of Google News + Ham Radio + Youtube (pics) and a major influencer of public debate. It might not always bring up the real issues but it will sure provoke discussions on themes that have been shut away from MSM.

I am a bit worried by this piece because if Mr Mitra is talking for the BJP, then God help the party and its fossilized thinking.

Naveen said...

Dear Mr. Mitra,

Your opinion on twitter without experiencing it firsthand was not expected from you. Twitter is not a teenager's playground. It is today a medium for instant dissemination of news and views for people of all ages including teens.

Soon I will be one year on twitter. I have immensely enjoyed tweeting and acquainting with complete strangers. For me twitter is purely a news feed gatherer. None of my relatives/friends know of my twitter a/c. For friends and relatives I have orkut and facebook.

I tweet on current affairs, India and the world. The search function allows me to find like-minded folks to follow. Also taking a look at the following list of people one follows, one can acquaint with other like-minded people and follow them too. Its not obligatory for people one follow to reciprocate.

There was a time when I used to diligently visit Pakistan news sites. Now due to people I follow, I access what I want on Pak on twitter. Its the same with many other topics. There is no need for me to scan RSS/Atom news feeds, visit various sites now.

There is no law that states one should convey all that one wants in 140 characters. One can breakdown the message into different tweets of 140 characters or less.

In Mr. Tharoor's case, as a MP via twitter he is available 24 hrs to his constituency. Updates of actions taken regarding the constituency are eagerly followed. Its another matter that wily journos create controversies out of Mr.Tharoor's tweets to live off non-issues.

Agree SMS n emails are indispensable. So is twitter. FYI people, including journos worldwide were depending upon twitter for instant updates on Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks. News agencies were no match to twitter those days.

On twitter, opinionated debates are most stimulating. Its instant and thought provoking. As an editor, you can also point out your choices of the day from the Pioneer and other sites to people following you.

Because of twitter the common man is able to interact directly with Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, Editors, Journos CEOs,etc. Was this possible earlier?

Lastly, I follow Mr. Kanchan Gupta and your son Mr. Kushan Mitra on twitter. Interacting with Mr. Gupta via twitter has been a pleasure. Mr. Gupta's latest expose on India's "deal" with Taliban was possible entirely because of him being on twitter.

I join your colleagues and sons in urging you not to waste anymore time and join twitter right away. I promise you will not be disappointed.

dubash said...

Within the last year or so Indian Express, TOI, Outlook, HT and now even The Hindu have updated the design of their websites, now I know what or should I say "who" is holding the Daily Pioneer back : )

For the most part I agree with Chandan Mitra. Tweets are not a substitute for meaningful conversation. But they do allow for a wider range of participants. They are like a big party -- lots a quick chatter. And if you find someone interesting maybe later you could have long quiet lunch and the meaningful conversation. It would be wrong to expect meaningful conversation at a big party.

I doubt if Shashi Tharoor would have posted a comment on this blog, or Barkha Dutt on offstumped's blog. But tweeting has allowed this kind of interaction. I think people are willing to say a quick hello to anyone at a party. I think it is the short-burstness of the medium that encourages this. Blogs on the other hand seem to devolve into self-selected isolated conclaves.

Anonymous said...

Tweet shall set you free!

Anonymous said...

Evgeny Morozov: How the Internet strengthens dictatorships
This applies to Congress pseudo-secularist pseudo-democracy also.

More about the speaker:

Piyul said...

Chandan Mitra dismisses twitter so confidently! Worse, on 1/2 baked knowledge. Do we blame the politician or the journo?

That is what i posted on twitter last night - and imho, in less than 140 characters is enough said on the subject...

However, for those used to the longer word & phrase of the erstwhile 'papers and online blogs - such as Mr. CM: here's my detailed take in

In LinkedIn, Ives de Bussar asked : "Twitter : who, what & why ?

I recently read an article stating that over 40% of tweets are absolute rubbish ( like : eating a sandwich now, just woke up , etc.)
If you use twitter, what makes it worth for you to follow somebody (what is your motivation to follow a person) ?..."

And my reply to de Bussar is the one I would give Mr. CM as well :

Why do we go to a party with lots of people we don't know out there?
We even meet some who are big bores. Most, perhaps. It is always good to get to know these folks from afar, and where one can studiously ignore...

Yet, there is always that new person - with a zany sense of humor. Or one who stays in your locality (in my case it is @powaiinfo) / city (@b50) / country(@surekhapillai) & knows a lot that u don't...

Or belongs to a diff work / hobby orbit that is immensely fascinating. Like a Cordon Bleu chef (@stevowallis), or one who adds a new word daily to our vocab (@jun6lee), or a very reachable watchable TV anchor (@BDUTT).

Even those u don't really agree with, but want to understand better - from afar (@pakidotcom)

Like all human beings, we ourselves also strive to make an impression. Not only do we want to be heard, we want to know we were heard...

Most of all - all at my own pace. With no socially well-dressed veneer required...

That is twitter. No need felt to analyze... it is like the 'fertile humus' we walk on daily. It is there, yet we accept it. Even ignore it.

NR said...

Dear Sri Chandan ji,

I request you to have twitter feed of DailyPioneer. Nowadays even though many buy a newspaper at home still a considerable internet population in India(not even talking of NRIs) get their news updates from internet. Only those fans of DP go to its website to gets DP news. But by getting DP on Gnews completely and setting up a DP twitter feed, it helps DP get new fans and increase visibility. As and when DP decides to launch edition in new areas, it could already have a visibility base. I hope I have convinced you enough to set up DP twitter feed and complete Gnews feed.

I also request you to leave a e-mail id to reach you at end of your coloums as Swapan and Kanchan jis do.


Anonymous said...

Twittering right now is used mainly for aimless banter, but maybe in the future it will serve bigger purposes. When people started using internet twenty years ago, it was mostly porn that they turned to and it seemed like the net's only use was to dish out porn. :-)

Anonymous said...

One critical change the Swamiji made from his Calcutta visit, on adivce of Keshab Sen, was switch to Hindi from Sanskrit so his message could reach to a much larger audience! He was the first major speaker from non-Hindi state to use Hindi as medium of mass communication. The next one to do on such a scale was Gandhiji. And, both was Gujaratis!

LS said...

The telephone (including mobile phones) is still used for a lot of inane chatter even after decades of serious usage. Newspapers, radio and TV are now mostly (95% ?) used for inane ads, inane discussions and promotion of inane or biased views on every inane topic under the sun (though they started out more serious as the medium was expensive). Why does CM object to inanity on Twitter? He should learn to look out for the useful and timely content (provided through a relatively inexpensive and unbiased medium) that Twitter makes possible.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kanchan,

On an unrelated note, a few points focusing on your reporting of the ban on Durga Puja in Rome (good job by the way):

1. Why is even The Pioneer reluctant to run your writeup as the banner lead with a screaming headline? This story deserves that kind of prominence. Let's suppose it was not Durga Puja but Ramazan that Rome banned. What would be the banner headline in the Times of India?

2. Do we assume that Sonia Gandhi, a Roman Catholic and according to Subramanian Swamy still an Italian citizen, has nothing to with this episode?

3. You forgot to ask a vital question: what is the difference between Saudi Arabia and Italy in matters of religious freedom? There doesn't seem to be much to me. Both prohibit the building of Hindu temples.

Swabhimaan said...

@Kanchan, can you please create a separate thread for the Durga Puja issue?

ap said...

It's not and i can prove it

Note: this is a reply to Mr. chandans post, not about judging him, or kanchan gupta.

Mahafreed Irani said...

Mr Mitra, you're not on Twitter yet?
Kanchan has posted this with only one intention:

*smirk* :-)
(PS: I never forced my editor to be on Twitter)

Deshabhakta said...

tweeting is fun, fast and easy :)

powerslave said...
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powerslave said...


Just like the electronic media took journalism to a next level (good or bad that is debatable) in this decade ,Twitter too has become a powerful platform to sense the pulse of a large section of society in real time and eventually influence it .

You need to be on Twitter to see the amount of data and info which gets exchanged over 1 or 2 liners . By making oneself accessible to the twiterrati journos,politicians, filmstars have not only increased their popularity but somewhere struck a personal chord which helps when conveying opinion/thoughts on contentious issues.

More media savvy outlets like CNN IBN ,NDTV and even TOI group have taken this seriously , it would do a lot of good for otherwise abused RIGHTISTS/Nationalists if someone like you joins Twitter.